What is A Locum Tenens Physician?

In today’s medical industry, it is common for clinics and healthcare facilities to have medical providers absent for a period of time or have a shortage of doctors on staff. That's when locum tenens physicians’ work becomes essential, as these are doctors who work temporarily in another practice that’s not their own and fill in the gaps that other permanent physicians have left. 

What Does a Locum Tenens Physician Do?

As we’ve seen previously, the job of a locum tenens physician is to fill in the place of another physician on a temporary basis. The absence may be related to numerous reasons, such as time off for illnesses, vacations, or professional development opportunities. They might even help care for patients while healthcare organizations search for permanent staff. The length of the assignment can vary and it really depends on the clinic’s needs for staff. 

  • Responsibilities and Duties

The duties and responsibilities of a locum tenens physician may vary depending on their specific position and company. Some of the typical responsibilities are adjusting to assignments by learning about the organization, corresponding with a permanent doctor with questions about patients, interviewing patients about medical history and pain or illness and administering medications and vaccinations. However, in short, physicians who work as locum tenens can perform the regular healthcare duties that the permanent physician job entails. Locum tenens are just as prepared as any other doctor to take on the daily challenges in their practice, as both locum and regular doctors need licenses and training to practice medicine. The real difference is that they must be more flexible regarding their work hours and location. 

  • Typical Work Settings

Locum physicians are sometimes called traveling doctors because they can experience a life of working in different hospitals and clinics around the country. And even though practices using locum tenens are usually those in more remote areas where the local supply of physicians is not enough for the clinic or facility, locum tenens contracts are available for every specialty in every state. Exploring different places and meeting different people can be one of the everyday perks of this kind of job. 

  • Enhancing Healthcare Facility Efficiency

Flexibility is beneficial for more than just locum tenens providers. It is very positive for facilities as well. Because of locum doctors, the medical industry can be more adaptable and efficient to meet the varying patients’ needs. Human resource departments also appreciate the fact that these physicians can work on short-term contracts, responding to their specific demands and giving flexibility to their budgets. Another positive aspect is that hospitals and healthcare groups may find it very difficult at times to attract full-time physicians. Still, locum doctors are generally more willing to work temporarily in rural areas with underserved populations. 

Challenges and Considerations

As many perks and benefits, there are to being a locum tenens physician, this kind of work can also come with some challenges that are worth keeping in mind if you are considering the life of a locum tenens physician.

  • Adapting to Different Work Environments

Since locum physicians are very likely to live a life full of new environments and places, adaptability is a skill that comes in very useful in this particular kind of job. Being away from home, the hassle of traveling and a less stable living situation can be some of the less desirable characteristics of the locum tenens life. Still, there are opportunities designed to fit almost any situation. 

  • Maintaining Work-Life Balance

Controlling your own schedule can be very nice if you know how to find the right balance. As a locum physician, there’s the freedom to choose to work as much or as little as you desire, but figuring out how the rest of your life fits your desired job can be difficult at times. It is important to consider that having this job means that some hours and shifts can be unpredictable and that you might have to compromise in order to succeed. 

  • Handling Administrative Responsibilities

The paperwork involved in applying, licensing, credentialing and privileging can differ depending on every health system and state. That can be overwhelming when you start the process and can discourage you from even beginning. Still and all, agencies know how frustrating that can be and work hard to help providers gather all that’s necessary for a seamless transition.

Why Locum Tenens Physicians are important?

Since the locum tenens industry was established, these temporary doctors have been an essential part of the healthcare industry and have made very positive improvements in the healthcare system. 

  • Addressing Staffing Gaps

Staffing shortages can arise for several reasons, which include seasonal illnesses such as the flu, maternity and vacation leaves. Locum tenens physicians offer an immediate and cost-effective solution to these gaps in facilities, making sure that patients don’t suffer the consequences. Locums are also a very useful solution for physician burnout, stepping in and covering for them so that the permanent providers can take a very much needed time-off. 

  • Covering Temporary Medical Leaves

Locum physicians can also cover temporarily for doctors who are on medical leave. The length of the shifts may vary depending on the number of days of the permanent provider’s absence, but the contracts can be as short as one day and as long as one year. 

How to Start a Career as a Locum Tenens Physician

If what you’re wondering now is how to become a locum tenens physician, there are some steps you need to take to get there. 

  • Finding Opportunities

This growing industry is full of opportunities for physicians who want to go the locum way. There’s a myriad of healthcare facilities out there looking to cover exactly the kind of position that you want to fill and agencies can help you find them. The range of places and environments you can get exposed to is incredibly broad, so finding an option that suits you shouldn’t be a concern. After you research and find the agency that best fits you, schedule a consultation where they can help you review all the options and find the job you’re looking for. 

  • Negotiating Contracts

In order to negotiate a contract, you first have to be sure about what you want and, most importantly, what you are not willing to give up, so define your deal breakers and what factors you want to prioritize. Some aspects worth noting are location, pay rate, shift schedule and reputation of the hospital or physician group. With regard to the locum tenens physician salary, the pay rate is largely dependent on factors like demand, market value, location, the length of the commitment, the shifts you’re willing to work, and more. However, as you don’t always have much wiggle room in negotiating the pay, it’s important to find ways to set yourself apart from the rest. A way of doing this might be highlighting your flexibility and your willingness to take on shifts that are difficult to cover. 

  • Transitioning Between Assignments

When you are transitioning between assignments, there’s something important to remember that can save you a lot of trouble down the line. That is to carefully read and analyze the agreement and make changes if you consider it necessary. You need to be able to ask for what you want and present the changes to the company so that they can review it. Lastly, don’t start your new assignment until you receive a countersigned agreement from the agency accepting your changes. 


The life of a locum tenens physician can present many challenges along the way. Still, these become worth it if you take the necessary steps to protect yourself and if what you really want is to travel, explore, and discover new places while you work to make people’s lives better.